By Tim Harrison
He only needed a second to score. Lionel Messi, kept at bay for 89 minutes of an enthralling Champions League Round of 16 tie at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, pounced on one defensive lapse to equalise and spoil Chelsea’s night.
A 1-1 draw at home to Barcelona would, on most nights, be a good result.
But Chelsea deserved all three points after Willian – currently enjoying one of his real purple patches with the club – scored shortly after the hour mark.
The Blues had absorbed spells of overwhelming possession by the Spanish side; the comparative figures for keeping the ball were 71 per cent and 29 per cent in Barca’s favour.
But Chelsea came closest to scoring in the goalless first half, Willian striking both posts during lightning counter-attacks.
Antonio Conte’s tactics were spot-on. Inspired by Wigan’s heroics against Manchester City in the FA Cup the night before, he set the Blues up to absorb, then surprise.
Willian collected a Cesc Fabregas corner, took a couple of quick touches, then fired home. Thirteen minutes later, it was 1-1 after a Messi seized on a poorly weighted clearance by Andreas Christensen to level. The goal may be crucial when the sides meet in the return leg.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have the little matter of Manchester United at Old Trafford this weekend, and a league reunion with their old chum Jose Mourinho. Willian may again hold the key.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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